History gives an account of how many of the apostles died.
Peter was crucified, upside down at his request since he did not feel worthy to die in the same way as Jesus. Andrew is said to have been crucified in what is now known as Russia. Historians claim Thomas was pierced with the spears of soldiers near Syria.
Philip was arrested and put to death in Asia Minor. It is believed Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia. There are varying accounts of how Bartholomew was martyred. James, son of Alpheus, was stoned and clubbed to death. Simon the Zealot was killed in Persia after refusing to worship a false god. Matthias, the replacement for Judas, was burnt to death.
Not only are the apostles persecuted and put to death, but the early church also follows their path and suffers horribly. In Rome, Christians were held in suspicion by Jews and the Roman government. Emperor Nero used this to his advantage.
In the summer of 64, Rome had a terrible fire that burned for six days and seven nights consuming almost three-quarters of the city. The people accused Emperor Nero of the devastation claiming he set the fire for his own amusement. In order to deflect these accusations and placate the people, Nero laid the blame for the fire on the Christians. They rounded up as many they could find and put them to death in the most horrific manner all for the amusement of the citizens of Rome.[i]
Throughout the entire church age, suffering and martyrdom for being a Christian is the norm.
Why does God allow those who profess Jesus as Savior to be killed? Is God crazy? Is His plan gone astray? Is suffering and death for Christians part of God’s plan?
In American today, popular Christian teachers teach differently. From their teaching, we can draw the conclusion that God’s plan for the first century Christian is different than His plan for today.
Imagine quoting these words from Joel Osteen to Matthias as he is being stabbed to death in Ethiopia, “It's God's will for you to live in prosperity instead of poverty.”
Think of Paul, arriving in Rome after writing his letter to the church, and saying these words from Benny Hinn, “God will begin to prosper you, for money always follows righteousness.” And then wave goodbye as they are taken to the coliseum.
As wax and tar are being applied to our bodies so we burn as candles at Nero’s party, what if I said, “You know, Kenneth Copeland says the seeds we are harvesting today were planted by the words of our mouth yesterday.”
The American Gospel teaches that prosperity and health are proof of God’s love.
John Piper says, “If God’s love for His children is to be measured by our health, wealth and comfort in this life, then God hated the Apostle Paul.”
There is a disconnect between the American gospel of health, wealth, and abundance and the gospel of the first century. The words of Jesus reveal the truth. Jesus does not promise us a life of comfort, luxury, convenience, health, or abundance. Jesus says if we follow Him we will face suffering and hardship. Jesus opens the eyes of His followers to God’s purpose and plans for His children.
Last week, we talked about the identity of Jesus. The people in the crowd do not know Jesus is the Messiah. They believe Him to be a reincarnation of a prophet.
When Jesus asks the apostles, who do you say that I am, Peter answers correctly, “The Christ of God.” The apostles know Jesus is the Messiah.
After Peter answers, Jesus says that the Messiah must “suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”
His words come as a shock, and Matthew’s gospel reveals Peter rebukes Jesus and says, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”
Peter and the apostles are correct in knowing Jesus is the Messiah, but they are wrong in understanding the mission of the Messiah. The apostles know part two of His mission, which is to sit on David’s throne.
But before Jesus sits on David’s throne and reigns over a kingdom of eternal peace and abundance, Jesus must pay the penalty for our sins with His death on the cross, and rise again from the dead.
Without the first mission, the second mission is meaningless. (The first sermon on this passage provides more background. Access it here: The Suffering Christ)
When we choose to follow Jesus, we put our faith in His identity. He is the Messiah. We also place our faith in what He has and will accomplish. We believe Jesus came first to save us from our sin by shedding His blood and dying on the cross. We believe He is coming again to establish His eternal kingdom.
To be a Christian is to have faith in who Jesus is, what He has done, and what He will do when He comes again.
Faith is more than intellectual belief. Christian faith is a passionate belief in the heart.
Genuine faith in Jesus is to believe He is supremely valuable. He is the Pearl of great price. Jesus is the treasure in the field. Jesus is the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of all, we ever want or need.
What does genuine faith look like? How do we know if Jesus is our Pearl of great price?
Jesus gives His disciples a test of faith. The test is not for Him to know, but for us to know. But do we know? Do you want to know if your faith is genuine? Is Jesus your supreme treasure?
If Jesus is your supreme treasure, you will follow Him.
Jesus reveals what is required to follow Him. He says, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)
The other gospel writers say:
“… he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38)
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mark 8:34).
“He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal” (John 12:25).
The requirements of following Jesus is to deny ourselves, pick up our cross daily, and follow Him.
There are many ways to deny ourselves. We deny ourselves when we deny our flesh. Denying ourselves is to lay aside the old self and put on the new self (Ephesians 4:17-32). We are instructed to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for our flesh (Romans 13:14).
Another way to deny self is to put others first. Jesus denies Himself when He comes to the earth as a lowly servant and dies on the cross for our sins. In the same way, we are to do nothing from selfishness. With humility, we are to regard one another as more important than ourselves. We are not to only look out for our own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4).
When we deny ourselves, we wake up in the morning, not thinking not about us. We have in mind God’s agenda which is holiness and serving others. To follow Christ is to be like Him in our pursuit of holiness and obedience to God and having a heart to serve others.
Following Jesus requires picking up our cross daily.
The phrase, “that’s my cross to bear” is frequently misused in our culture. Some people think their sister-in-law is a cross to bear. Others think that having a disadvantage or not being recognized for a job well done is a cross to bear.
When we read the scripture, we are to know how the original audience understands what is being said. The apostles see people carry a cross. They know the cross as an instrument of execution—people who carry a cross face public shame, taunting, and insults. To pick up a cross is a death sentence. People who pick up a cross do not live to the next day.
To follow Jesus is to be executed each day.
Jesus is speaking figuratively. None of His apostles go to the local Roman garrison and ask for a cross. Jesus does not expect them to do so.
The Apostle Paul helps us understand what Jesus is saying. It is a great verse.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Paul is not speaking about being literally crucified.
To pick up our cross is to put aside our agenda, and live for God’s glory. Being a disciple of Jesus demands sacrifice, and Jesus did not hide this truth from people. Neither should we.
Jesus adds clarity to what denying self, picking up our cross, and following Him looks like.
Jesus asks, “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:25) Other translations say, what do we profit if we gain the world but lose our soul?
It is important to make the connection. We have two choices. The first choice is to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Jesus. The second choice is to gain the whole world.
The first choice saves our soul from damnation. Choosing the world is to lose our soul.
What does it mean to gain the world? It means investing our efforts to get everything this world offers.
We work hard to get the highest position in the industry. We practice repeatedly in every sport and recreation to win every event we enter. We enjoy every lustful offering and indulge our flesh with complete hedonism. We star in movies and become world-famous. Universities award us every degree available. Our automobiles, boats, and airplanes bring us to mansions that span every continent. We have servants to do our bidding.
We gain the whole world, and the Guinness Book of world records has our name saying we are the world’s most famous, richest, most powerful, most educated, and so forth. That is gaining the whole world.
Does this sound attractive? We lie if we say it does not sound tempting. But, are the treasures of this world worth all of our time and effort? Jesus asks if gaining the world today is worth losing our soul in eternity.
Of course, our answer is no. It is tempting, yes. But it is not worth our soul.
If gaining the whole world is not worth losing our soul, why do we allow ourselves to chase after a portion of the world?
Listen to James. He writes, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)
When we apply the analogy of adultery, we can understand what it means to forsake the world. Jesus is our husband. We are His bride.
We get a new job, start a new class, get a boyfriend or girlfriend, the weather gets nice, football season starts, and wham, the world pulls out all of its stops to tempt us. Each one of us has a world temptation we fight. And we give in to the fight. We forsake the church, bible study, prayer, and anything about Jesus. We live as if Jesus is not present. We commit adultery by becoming friends with what this world offers.
The things of this world walk by and wink at us. We smile and wink back.
Are we going to gain the comforts of life, strive for fame, or build bigger barns? Or are we going to deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Christ?
After speaking about the value of the soul, Jesus says something very startling. He says, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:26)
If we examine the statement in context, we can understand what it means to be ashamed of Jesus. Choosing the world is to love the world more than Jesus.
Life is a continual display of passion. James’ analogy of adultery is helpful. Those who commit adultery love another person over their spouse. Adultery is an expression of the affections of our hearts. When we choose to gain the world, we are choosing to love the world more than Jesus.
To gain the world is to love the world. We are making statements of value. What do we treasure?
If I choose to purchase a car that is a lemon, I will ultimately express shame in my choice. I am embarrassed to say this, but my first car was an AMC Pacer (not true, sorry if it was yours, though). I am ashamed of my choice.
In the same way, when we hide Jesus in our life, we are expressing embarrassment to belong to Him. To choose to gain the world is to find shame in Jesus. In other words, Jesus is not worth pursuing. It is not to see Him as valuable.
John Piper expresses what it means to be unashamed of Jesus. He says,
To be unashamed is to live in such a way that puts the infinite value of Christ on display for the world to see. It is a passion to joyfully display the supreme excellence of Christ by the way we live. (John Piper)
Some people in the world take more pride in being gay than Christians take pride in belonging to Christ. Treasure Jesus by openly living for Him (come out of the church closet).
Do not be ashamed to read your bible in public. Be willing to pray openly at restaurants or with someone at the airport as you say goodbye. Invite coworkers to coffee so you can talk about Christ and how important He is to your life. Write the name of Jesus on the gates of your house. Post Scripture on your Facebook profile. Wave your banner high.
We do not have to do these things as a Christian. They will not make us a better Christian. The price is too high to not examine our life to see if there is evidence that we are ashamed of Jesus and His words.
Jesus forgives us when we repent for being ashamed of Him. However, if we repeatedly refuse to be identified with Jesus, when He returns, He will be ashamed of us.
To not be ashamed means that we will speak about Jesus to others. Speaking about Jesus often brings suffering. Almost every page of the book of Acts has the mention of suffering for God’s people. When the gospel is preached, suffering takes place.
Two-thirds of the world's population -- more than 4.4 billion people live in countries where the gospel is restricted. To say Jesus is your treasure where two-thirds of the people in the world live requires suffering.
Jesus warns us of this reality:
Why does God allow His children to suffer when they share the truth about Jesus? Why doesn’t God reward those who share the gospel? Why is it that the apostles were killed?
Suffering for the sake of possessing something is an expression of its value. Some people spend an evening waiting in the cold outside of a store waiting for the Black Friday sales because they value a deal. There are people in China that sell a kidney to get money for an iPhone. People will do stupid things just to get noticed because they value popularity.
We’ve all seen movies where a man willingly embarrasses himself while crying out, “I love you.” Or, how military men suffer for the sake of their country. Or, the woman who works three jobs so her child son can go to college and pursue a career.
We desire Jesus as our eternal Husband. He is supremely valuable. When we know Christ, we are willing to persevere through the troubles of this world, knowing that Jesus is our reward.
Our Scripture reading today is chosen because it expresses suffering for the sake of Christ. Paul speaks about the surpassing value of Jesus. Jesus is his treasure.
In that passage, The Apostle Paul says that what used to be valuable; he now counts it as loss. Everything in this world is rubbish and in comparison to knowing Christ.
Paul is willing to deny himself, pick up his cross, and let go of this world to receive the righteousness gained by faith in Christ.
Having fellowship with Jesus in His sufferings and taking part in death for His namesake, is an incomparable price to pay in order to receive the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7-11).
Persecution for sharing the gospel is infinitesimal compared with living with perfect joy in the presence of our Savior and King. We never hunger or thirst because the Bread of Life and source of Living Water belongs to us. We never have pain because the Great Physician is our Bridegroom. We never die because we belong to the one who is the Resurrection and the Life. Jesus is the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams; of course, He is worth our suffering! Yes, we will deny ourselves, pick up our cross, and follow Him.
Following Jesus is to live in a way that proves He is our most valuable treasure. Treasure the suffering Messiah as supremely valuable over all things, including life itself.